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LI math wiz, 12, 'rocks' national video game contest

Nicholas Cameron, 12, of Sayville, was selected on

Nicholas Cameron, 12, of Sayville, was selected on July 9 as one of 16 middle and high school students from across the country to win the third annual STEM Video Game Challenge. (July 17, 2013) Credit: Brittany Wait

An animated red fish asks a mathematical question and waits to be “fed” by one of the nearby rocks, one of which contains the correct answer. After feeding it the right answer, 10 points is awarded.

This was part of “Math Rocks,” a video game that 12-year-old Nicholas Cameron created using game development platform Kodu. A player has to solve a range of math problems in order to advance levels and beat the game.

Cameron and students across the country had four months to build an educational video game to submit by early May to the third annual STEM Video Game Challenge.

After he thought he missed the deadline, on July 9 Cameron was surprised to find he had been named as one of 16 winners from across the country. He was also the first Long Islander to win.

“It was really fun to figure out what wasn’t working properly with the software and how to make the game fun and educational at the same time,” said Cameron, who is entering 7th grade at Sayville Middle School in the fall.

Inspired by President Obama’s initiative “Educate to Innovate,” the competition aims to motivate interest in math, science and technology among America’s youth by tapping into a passion for playing video games, said Michael H. Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, an educational research lab in Manhattan that judge the games.

The center and its partner in the challenge, E-Line Media, received 4,000 entries.

“The training of young scientists and mathematicians in our nation is lagging behind our national competitors, so we created this challenge to get more kids engaged in math and technology through game play,” Levin said.

For winning, Cameron will receive a laptop computer, loaded with game design and educational software, and $2,000 for his school.

Cameron’s mother, Joanne, wasn’t surprised that he won, especially after seeing him devote countless hours of building the game, his continued passion to build skyscrapers out of LEGOs and blocks, and his dream to be an architect.

“All that matters is that he had fun with it and it looked like he did,” she said. “His imagination is so great that he’s capable of anything. We’re so proud of him.”

Levin also hailed Cameron’s efforts creating a humorous and creative game with a series of levels and different challenges focusing on building math skills.

“The math is embedded in between game mechanics, trickery and fun, which makes it both educational and fun,” Levin said. “The coding platform is challenging, so it was impressive he was able to use one of the most difficult platforms to create his game.”

His enrichment teacher Tracy Toth, who informed him about the challenge and supervised the process of building the game, was pleasantly surprise with the win, but confident in her student's capabilities.

“He created the game all on his own at home and really deserves all the credit,” said Toth, of East Setauket. “The fact that a 6th grader came up with this is incredible. We're so proud." 

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